The NFL is America’s most popular sport, generating about $9 billion in revenue in the last year alone.
Super Bowl XLV was the most-watched television event in history, and the league’s financial success is only continuing to increase.
That money, however, is threatening to tear the league apart and force a labor strike in yet another example of how the ever-expanding business of sports has made all negotiating parties greedier.
In this case, neither party is hesitant to go into a lockout because they know fans are addicted to the NFL’s product and will return in full force when games resume. The fans’ dedication seems to have become a bargaining chip for both the owners and the NFL Players Association, enabling them both to hold out for the best possible offer.
The biggest issue driving a wedge between the NFLPA and the NFL owners is how to divide that $9 billion of revenue more evenly.
Currently, the players receive about 57 percent of the revenue, after an initial $1 billion credit is given to owners off the top.
The players union, headed by DeMaurice Smith, proposed a 50/50 split of revenues, without the initial credit, on Feb. 11. The owners countered with a 60/40 split in their favor. Both sides quickly left the negotiating table after a highly contentious session.
The NFLPA is pushing for increased financial transparency while also fighting the proposal of an 18-game season.
Owners claim that player revenue needs to be cut to benefit the future of the league so franchises can dedicate costs to international growth and player safety.
The owners’ proposal is contradictory at its core, because they are aiming for an 18-game season, which would only mean less player safety and more opportunities for injury. It would turn the NFL season into a war of attrition, leaving the Super Bowl to be played by two exhausted and depleted teams.
The quality of games would decrease as well. The owners recognize this, but keep pushing for the 18-game season because of the potential to maximize television and sponsorship revenue and increase ticket sales.
As with every negotiation in sports, it’s all about the money. The business of football is experiencing a rapid growth unlike any other sport in history. Both sides are now using the extraordinary success as a negotiating chip.
Both sides claim that a lockout would harm the on-field product, the business of the NFL and the fans for years.
Yet, neither side seems to be taking a proactive approach to reaching an agreement. They are content to head into March 4, the expected start of the NFL lockout, without a new collective bargaining agreement in place.
Unlike the NHL’s lockout in 2004, however, the NFL will return in full force despite an abbreviated or cancelled season.
The fan base is so broad, the revenue so large that fans will flock back immediately once they get a chance to do so. Because the owners and the NFLPA know this, they are not afraid to disregard fans while holding out for the best possible deal they can. They both publicly advocate compromise, but neither side seems genuinely interested in budging on their stances.
Lockout or no lockout, these contentious negotiations are only the beginning of a turbulent time for labor peace in sports. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expires this summer, and the MLB’s ends in 2012. The unrest will continue, all in the name of money.
Cyrus Behzadi is a freshman majoring in communication. His column, “The Extra Point,” runs Wednesdays.